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World Health Organization director-general speaks at a press conference

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference on December 20, 2021. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

'Unprecedented': WHO Chief Urges Moderna Shareholders to Back Vaccine Tech Transfer

The WHO director-general will present a shareholder resolution calling on the pharmaceutical giant to make its coronavirus vaccine recipe available to the world.

Jake Johnson

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will present a shareholder resolution Thursday calling on the U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Moderna to make its coronavirus vaccine technology available to the world, a first-of-its-kind move from the U.N. agency as the global pandemic rages on.

"It is an unprecedented appearance for an unprecedented pandemic," Peter Singer, a special adviser to Tedros, told Reuters ahead of Moderna's annual shareholder meeting, where Tedros will present the resolution as vaccine equity campaigners prepare to hold die-ins and other demonstrations at the company's headquarters in Boston.

"It is an unprecedented appearance for an unprecedented pandemic."

Singer said Tedros' presentation will mark the first time the U.N. agency has made such an intervention at a publicly-traded company.

Sponsored by Oxfam America, the resolution calls on Moderna to study "the feasibility of promptly transferring intellectual property and technical knowledge ('know-how') to facilitate the production of Covid-19 vaccine doses by additional qualified manufacturers located in low- and middle-income countries."

Tedros' presentation will come after two of Moderna's largest investors voiced opposition to the shareholder resolution. Moderna's leadership, headed by billionaire CEO Stéphane Bancel, has urged shareholders to block the resolution, claiming it would not "address the realities of the pandemic as it exists today."

Public health campaigners strongly disagree, arguing that technology transfer is essential to ensure sufficient vaccine access in low-income nations. To date, just 15.3% of people in low-income countries have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose.

Moderna's refusal to abandon restrictive patents and share its publicly funded technology with the world has hampered efforts by a WHO-backed hub in South Africa to make an mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine for developing nations.

"It is unacceptable that Moderna has reaped the benefits of public taxpayer money to develop this blockbuster vaccine, yet refuses to share the recipe with producers across the rest of the world that have the capacity to make mRNA vaccines for countries' current and future needs, for both Covid and other diseases," Mihir Mankad, senior global health advocacy and policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement Wednesday.

"Moderna made this lifesaving mRNA vaccine a reality with substantial U.S. government support," Mankad added, "and both parties need to commit to unconditional sharing of the technology for the purposes of pandemic preparedness."

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